New Year and talks (on resolutions and religion)

I am reversing the order of today’s blog. We’ll do pictures first, and then I am going to post more writing. Specifically, I am posting our sacrament meeting talks from Sunday. They were supposed to tie together the new year and the atonement, and so I figure this is a perfect spot to reference our thoughts on that should we ever care to in the future.

Abe crafted with Lydia
Abe crafted with Lydia
After our tutoring session, Lydia and I watched Harry Potter.
After our tutoring session, Lydia and I watched Harry Potter.
Mary joined us.
Mary joined us.
We went to Target this evening. It was actually a very lovely trip, although I feel discouraged that we headed into the new year still focused on acquiring STUFF. I hope 2015 finds me less focused on the material aspects of life.
We went to Target this evening. It was actually a very lovely trip, although I feel discouraged that we headed into the new year still focused on acquiring STUFF. I hope 2015 finds me less focused on the material aspects of life.

Lily’s Talk: “The Repairer of the Breach”

Good morning, brothers and sisters. We just moved into the ward and are very happy to be here with you and addressing you this morning. By way of brief introduction, I’m Lily, my husband is Abe, and we have two girls, Lydia and Mary, ages two and three.

I am originally from Chicago, and Abe is from Salt Lake. Our lives converged five years ago, when we were living in Hyde Park, a neighborhood in Chicago. I had finished up a mission on Temple Square and grad school on the east coast and was working as a teacher in an inner city high school. I had just resigned myself to the fact that I would never get married when I met Abe in the foyer of our singles branch. He had finished a Spanish speaking mission in Chicago and his own schooling out east and was working at a company called Guardsmark.

We bonded over our miserable work lives and my lab puppy. The first time we bumped into each other outside of church, I was walking my dog and he was out on a run and came over and volunteered right off of the bat to throw away the stinky doggy bag in my hands. I thought that was so gallant. A couple months into dating we got engaged, and a month after that we got married.

I credit all of our present happiness to Abe’s remarkable ability to remain patient, calm, reasonable and loving even when my natural inclination is different than that. He is a creative, joyful, fun, intelligent, and deeply kind person, and every day I wake up grateful to be married to him.

Abe’s job transferred him to Salt Lake three years ago, and last year he took a job with Qualtrics in Provo and commuted until we moved. We’re very relieved to have that commute behind us, and Abe is happily rediscovering the joy and wonder of a normal sleep schedule again.

We were asked to speak on the atonement and the new year, and as I have pondered this topic for the last couple weeks, the words of Isaiah and the theme of repair keep coming to mind.  Specifically, I have found myself meditating on the phrase, “the repairer of the breach.” This phrase from Isaiah 58 was the subject of a talk given at the first youth conference I ever attended, and it literally changed the spiritual trajectory of my life.

Isaiah chapter 58 is perhaps most famous as a discourse on proper fasting, or at least when I’ve referenced it in church settings, it is one of the classic references we seem to turn to for direction on why we fast. However, this chapter also encapsulates one of Isaiah’s overarching themes, which happens to be God’s command that we care for the poor. In this chapter, the Lord tells us to deal our bread to the hungry and clothe the naked, after which He articulates all the blessings promised to us when we follow these commandments. He promises us health, righteousness, answered prayers, and, my personal favorite, that we shall raise up the foundations of many generations and be called “The repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.”

That phrase, “the repairer of the breach,” is packed with meaning for me, and when I look forward to 2015, my heart yearns for this blessing to actualize, to happen repeatedly, and to be real in my life. Life is full of breaches that we need the Lord’s help in repairing. We might find ourselves in need of repairing financial breaches, breaches of health, and even breaches with our deceased ancestors that can be fixed through engagement in family history. However, the biggest breaches in my life that stand between me and a whole spiritual life are breaches of relationship. Matthew records Jesus teaching, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;  leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

Now, I’ll just pause here because if I were in the congregation today listening to this talk, I might check out at this point and assume this talk wasn’t relevant to me. As someone who dislikes open confrontation, (and admittedly, Abe could dispute the truthfulness of that statement) I rarely have fights or big disagreements with people who cross my path. If hurt happens, it is usually below the surface and often passes unnoticed by my conscious self. However, when I take the time to “go meta” and honestly examine my interior life, there are a surprising number of grievances, hurts, envies and even grudges that stand between the altar of God and me. These feelings might be so small that they manifest themselves only in constrictions of my heart when interacting with the subconsciously disliked person, an envious instinct so subtle that I don’t automatically recoil at the thought, or a grudge that makes me blame present unhappiness on another and outsource accountability.

Because my life doesn’t revolve around these feelings, when I kneel to pray at night, I might not even realize I have repairs to be made before I can honestly say I am “filled with a love of God and all men.” However, through Spirit directed ponderings, I have come to know that there are things in my life that need repair, and I rejoice to know that my Savior will help me repair them.

I learned this lesson over ten years ago when I was living in Rome with six other girls. We were studying abroad, and since I didn’t attend church schools, none of my roommates were LDS.  I loved all of my roommates—except for one. The feelings of dislike started small, with just little things here and there that I found bothersome. Alice later let me read her journal, and I found out then that our feelings of dislike at the beginning of our relationship were quite evenly mutual. After a couple weeks, I came back to our apartment and discovered a situation that brought up those simmering feelings of dislike to a conscious level. As I kneeled to pray that night, I realized that before I could go before the throne of God with confidence, I needed His help in repairing this relationship with Alice. I prayed for forgiveness, guidance, and for God to manifest himself in my life as the “repairer of the breach,” just as I had been taught in youth conference. And then I went to bed.

I need to digress for a minute and talk about Roman laundry. While I was in Rome, most people hung out their laundry to dry on their apartment balconies, which is what we did. We didn’t have a washer or a dryer, and so our balcony was always filled with someone’s drying clothes. That night, Alice had set her clothes out to dry on our balcony.

After I went to bed, I awoke several hours later to a voice in my head that said, “Go bring in Alice’s laundry from the balcony.” It was such clear direction that even in my sleepy haze, I immediately jumped out of bed and brought in Alice’s clothes, not knowing why. As soon as I got the last rack of clothes inside, there was a clap of thunder and it started to pour rain. It was very dramatic! I returned to bed feeling the Spirit, but still not knowing whether this tiny act of service would make any difference in a relationship that felt beyond repair.

However, when Alice woke up in the morning and discovered I had brought in her clothes, our relationship changed. By small and simple things are great things brought to pass, and that night was a turning point in our friendship. That night meant that we would have a relationship that was a friendship. I grew to love Alice, and she grew to love me. Even though we’ve fallen out of touch over the years, when I think of Alice now, I feel nothing but love and affection.

This experience, however insignificant it might seem, has literally changed my life. I know now that whenever I have a relationship that feels toxic, I can bring that relationship to God and feel absolutely confident that He knows how to repair and how to guide me in whatever steps I need to take to make that relationship whole again. I have used that knowledge and witnessed the literal miracle of forgiveness take place in my own heart on multiple occasions. For the relationships in my life that still need repair, I move forward trusting that I will feel forgiveness, compassion, love, and genuine remorse for my own lack of understanding at some future point in time.

That experience has also taught me that one of the keys to repair is service. Back in Isaiah 58, the blessing that we can be called “the repairer of the breach” is predicated on our following God’s commandment that we serve our fellow man. My relationship with Alice changed when service happened. Now, I have to say, I am not in the camp that believes service is the ultimate panacea for every problem. Sometimes the very issue at hand is the fact that one party is putting more into a relationship than the other, and I don’t believe that redoubling efforts in a situation like that will necessarily lead to feelings of love and forgiveness. I do know, however, that God is the source of all knowledge and truth, and that He can lend us His wisdom, guidance and love so that any and every relationship in our lives can be made whole.

I take immense comfort in Isaiah 61, wherein Christ explains the mission of the Messiah. I read these verses and find the theme of repair at its Biblical apex. You will recognize the first verse as the one Christ chose to announce his mission when He was in the synagogue at Nazareth. Here he says, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”

When reading that scripture as quoted in Luke, I often get distracted by the following verses, which tell of how the people in the synagogue are so incensed that they try to throw Jesus off of a cliff. But what was Jesus saying here beyond simply proclaiming Himself the Messiah? He was explaining the true mission of the Messiah, which was to rescue and repair the meek, brokenhearted, captives of the world. And then in subsequent verses He paints a glorious picture of what that repair looks like.

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called the trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”

There’s more that I will quote in a minute, but I just want to unpack that verse with you quickly. To say nothing of my other favorite scriptural phrase, “beauty for ashes,” the promise that Christ will make us trees of righteousness and the planting of the Lord has filled me with excitement these past couple weeks. Once we decided to move to Orem, we heard over and over again from various friends and acquaintances that Orem used to be all orchards. Now obviously, the Lord is raising up his planting all over the world, but the idea that there is such a concentration of active covenant people in a place that used to be filled with fruit trees feels symbolic, important and exciting. I couldn’t help but think about the homecoming talks we heard a couple weeks ago and reflect on how many missionaries this ward alone has sent out.

In the last verse of Isaiah 61, we read, “For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it so spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all nations.” As we liken Isaiah to ourselves, we learn that our plantings in this very special place that used to be a literal orchard will go forth from among us and praise God before all the nations of the earth.

My prayer for 2015 is that we all can find repair and healing through Christ, that we can be, in reality, the planting of the Lord and his own trees of righteousness here in Orem.

Abe’s Talk: “Make the Lord Your First Priority”

Abe just asked me not to post his talk because the written format was quite rough. It was more of an outline. He spent a lot of time referencing Elder Scott’s talk from last conference.